Day 1 of Shooting
For years after James’s death, my hearing was heightened about what was happening in poor black neighborhoods in New York. I’d hear stories in the news, and it was as if I could smell the racism that was inherent in the style in which they were relayed to the viewing public. And because I’d gotten a sense of what life was like in the projects, the news felt like peoples lives were being misrepresented, maligned and then negated when it came to death. The media’s thirst for violent crime, based on what I believe is a misguided sense of what audiences want to see and hear, seemed insatiable.
At the same time, I started to really listen to the lyrics of hip hop music and I realized that the stories were just like the stories that I’d heard from Kevin and Louie, and I knew I had to get out of my comfort zone and get into the projects. And finally one day, smack in the middle of the whole East Coast West Coast Hip Hop battle that eventually ended in the deaths of Biggie and Tupac, I realized that if I found a young hip hop artist from the projects, who’d been signed by a record label, that I would have a story. Player Hating was born, and I went looking for an artist.
I won’t go through the whole litany of artists I approached as main characters, but suffice to say one couldn’t sign a contract, one went to jail, and the rest couldn’t show up for meetings. But finally, one day I had a character. A nineteen-year-old kid by the name of Pikasoe who’d been signed by Flavor Unit. So I headed into the Brownsville Housing Projects, with a four person (only slightly) racially mixed crew, to interview Pikasoe for the first time. I had two shooters with me. Eileen Schreiber and Steve MacCauley, both white, like me.
Brownsville Housing Projects is humungous. And for my first foray into the projects it was really overwhelming. Not a white face for miles. I was way out of my element. I set up the interview in the interior hall of Pikasoes building. He casually leaned against the wall answering my questions. He told me about his music, and that he was a part of a gang call ABG, sort of an I don’t want to be a Blood or a Crip but need protection in numbers gang. I asked what ABG stood for. Any Body can Get it, he replied. That took me back a bit, so I asked if he carried a gun, and he responded in this very serious tone, Of course I carry a gun. It’s my responsibility to carry a gun. And I thought Wow, that is totally weird.
Thirty minutes later, Pikasoe, my film crew and about thirty of his friends were all sitting out in the courtyard wrapping up for the day, when three kids on bikes came riding through the courtyard, and all the sudden I heard a woman screaming, Their gonna kill the nigger! My instinct was to run, but I turned and saw this kid on a bike with one hand trying to wrestle Steve’s camera from him, and in the other a 9mm he was pushing into Steve’s face. I thought, Holy shit they’re gonna blow his brains out. Thankfully, Steve dropped the camera and the kids rode off with two of our camera’s and our PA’s bag.
Well, white chick that I am, I thought Pikasoe and his crew were going to come over make sure we were ok, maybe express concerned about the loaned equipment, empathize with the robbery, but that isn’t how it went down. They wanted to know if the film was in the camera and if the releases were taken. There was no concern about us. At first I was pissed off and then I realized, that we would walk away and this is where they lived, and that whatever gang theses kids were with, they now had access to all this information. The releases included the names of at least forty people we had shot, their addresses, phone numbers, etc.
That was the end of shooting with Pikasoe, and I’d have to find another character for my film. Now I can’t know anything for sure, but I believe Pikasoe bowed out because we put him on the hot seat and he wanted to live. And part of the reason Steve is alive today is because he’s white. Those kids were maybe fourteen at best, but they wanted it to be perfectly clear that they were the shit, not Pikasoe, and not his crew. They were player hating. And you know what? I totally got it. If you wanted to live in this world, you better carry a gun, because everyone had one, and anybody can get it…